The seventh regular session of the City Council last Monday ended with a bang when one of its members, City Councilor Fred Bagbagen, delivered a privileged speech assailing the recent acquisition by the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) of two parcels of land in the City measuring 12,299.88 square meters in the purchase amount of 85 million pesos.
If the revelation by Councilor Bagbagen is new information to the people of Baguio then the same apparently holds true with the member-consumers of the electric cooperative who according to the alderman were never consulted much less informed about the matter.
The privilege speech itself contains several documents affixed as annexes to support the contention of the councilor that the purchase and acquisition of the said lots by Beneco was done without apparently observing the proper courtesy of information towards its members as well as the alleged inappropriateness of the transaction given the supposed prevailing financial situation and standing of Beneco.
There were several issues raised by the councilor and they mainly delve on the authority exercised by Beneco to buy the lots, whether this was in fact its sole prerogative and discretion without the need of informing its member-consumers or requesting approval from other legal entities or agencies having to do with the distribution and management of electricity or those tasked to supervise cooperatives.
For the first part of this topic I will deal mainly with the issue of the non-discussion of the matter vis-à-vis the right of the members to be informed about cooperative affairs.
What is clear based on documents is that being a cooperative Beneco has established its own by-laws amended during the special general membership assembly in May 28, 2005 and approved by the National Electrification Administration in September 26, 2005. The provisions of the by-law particularly Article I thereof enunciate the requirements and rights of being a member in Beneco. In Section 5 (3), Article I of the said by-law it states that “.......Every bona fide member shall have the following rights: …. (3) to be informed of cooperative affairs”.
Article III of the same By-Law also provides for the meeting of members particularly in Section 1 which deals with its annual meeting and Section 5 which provides for the order of business during the said annual meeting to be followed thus:
a. Report on the number of members present in person in order to determine the existence of a quorum;
b. Reading of the notice of the meeting and the proof of due publication or mailing thereof or the waiver or waivers of notice of meeting, as the case may be;
c. Reading of unapproved minutes of the previous meeting of the members and the taking of necessary action thereof;
d. Presentation and consideration of reports of officers, managers and committees
e. Unfinished business;
f. New business;
This order of business as required by the Beneco by-laws was followed to the letter by the said cooperative ever since its amendment and ratification.
Thus for every annual meeting of the Beneco, everything done by the former in so far as cooperative affairs are concerned should be included in the said order of business and contained in the notices for the annual meeting.
If this is the case, then Beneco must have included in its 29th Annual General Assembly order of business the matter of the purchase of the said lots considering that this is a cooperative affair and business and that the plans for the acquisition supposedly began as early as April 6, 2008 when Beneco posted an advertisement in a local weekly that it is interested to buy a city lot with an area of more or less 1,000 to 1,500 sq. meters.
However, Councilor Bagbagen contends that the lot purchase was neither part of, nor discussed during the said assembly which was conducted in December 5, 2009 at the Tublay Covered Court, Acop, Tublay Benguet.
A quick check on previous notices of Beneco published in a local newspaper reveal that indeed in the order of business for the 29th Annual General Assembly of Beneco the abovementioned transaction was not included in the agenda. Was this merely inadvertence or a calculated omission to eschew having to inform the members about the deal? Is the omission a breach of the responsibility of the cooperative to give due course to the rights of their members to be informed of cooperative affairs as embodied in their By-Laws? If there was an omission as posited by Councilor Bagbagen is the act grave enough to warrant further investigation and perhaps the imposition of sanctions?
The ball so to speak is now in the hands of Beneco, it should as a matter of responsibility and duty explain its actions in connection with the purchase of the said city lots.
To remain silent or worse refuse to explain its side Beneco will only open the door for dangerous speculations that however far from the truth they might seem will somehow taint the credibility, integrity and cooperative service of the organization.
As a result of the privileged speech of councilor Bagbagen seven resolutions were passed by the City council among them is for Beneco to comply with its obligations to the consumers pursuant to Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Decisions, requesting Beneco to submit all documents pertaining to the transaction and purchase of the lots, requesting Beneco for an audited report of its operation and maintenance expenses, Requesting the National electrification Adiministration (NEA) and the ERC to conduct investigation, to authorize the City Legal Officer to conduct an investigation and if necessary to file administrative and criminal charges pursuant to Section 46 of the Epira in behalf of the city as a valued client, to authorize the City Legal Officer to file annulment of the Deed of Sale and titles, and to invite the broker to shed light on the transaction.